French is spoken by more than 300 million around the world, and linguists predict that this figure will increase dramatically in the coming years.
The French Canadian province of Québec alone is home to 7 million native French speakers, making it the third country where French is most spoken, and the cosmopolitan city of Montreal the fourth-largest Francophone city in the world.
We’ve established that French insults and curse words are creative over in mainland France, but expletives are just as entertaining on the other side of the Atlantic. When francophone Quebecers whack their thumb with a hammer, receive terrible news, or get cut off in traffic, the curses that spew forth are overwhelmingly related to the Catholic Church.
Today, we’re taking you on an unfamiliar journey through some of the most popular insults and swear words used in Quebec that will hopefully get you through the harsh winter.
Ostie or Ostie de…
We kick off this holier-than-thou guide with one of la belle province’s most popular curse words. Ostie (also written ostie de or sti) is similar to our f-word (and the timeless French interjection put*in) and is used to express anger or frustration towards a situation. This profanity stems from the noun hostie which refers to Communion host.
Example: “Ostie qu’il m’énerve !”
Translation: “F*cking hell he’s getting on my nerves!”
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Far more prevalent in older generations, the abbreviation Newfie refers to people living in Quebec’s neighboring province, Newfoundland. While the term may not come across as offensive, it is actually a slur depicting people who grew up in the province as stupid and lazy.
Example: Exemple : Regarde-moi cette newfie qui n’a pas de manteau !
Translation: Look at that Newfie, they aren’t even wearing a coat!
Many Quebecers won’t condone the use of this next curse word. In Quebec French, gros colon doesn’t refer to a protruding internal organ (spelled côlon), but rather a settler or colonist. It is used to describe someone as “unsophisticated” or “ignorant” (much like the French insult beauf).
Example: Tu as rencontré le nouveau manager? Il a vraiment l’air d’un colon.
Translation: Have you met the new manager? He looks like a right moron.
Tabarnak / Tabernacle
Tabarnak is a phonetic rendition of the term “tabernacle”, which refers to the ornamented box in which Communion hosts and wine are kept. In Quebec, it has become a very popular swear word used to express anger, annoyance or surprise. This foul term has the approximate weight of “holy sh*t” or “holy f*ck” in English.
Example : Nous ne sommes pas parties en vacances depuis plus d’un an, tabernacle !
Translation: We haven’t gone on holiday for more than a year, holy sh*t!
Criss or Crisse
A diminutive of Christ, criss (sometimes written crisse) is an immensely satisfying and versatile expletive commonly used as a way to amplify a negative emotion. Think of it this way: criss is to Quebecers what the F-word is to English speakers.
Exemple : Ostie de criss de tabernacle, ce plat est immonde.
Translation: Holy f*cking sh*t, this Poutine dish is despicable.
Note: this curse word can be used as a noun, adjective and even as a verb (crisser) like the blasphemous expression criss ton camp (“get the f*ck out of here”).
Calisse / Câlice / Coliss
To get in the Quebec spirit of swearing, try the stronger version of criss: calisse (also spelled câlice or coliss). This swear word refers to the holy chalice in which wine is stored in Church. Today, it denotes extreme apathy and suppressed anger or frustration.
Exemple : Calisse je déteste les peintures de cet artiste !
Translation: Holy f*ck I really hate this artist’s paintings!
Bear in mind calisse can also be used as a verb, in the profane expressions je m’en calisse (“I don’t give a f*ck”) or je décâlisse (“I’m getting the f*ck out of here).
Tu fais dur
If someone uses this expression in your presence, they simply find you repulsive. Tu fais dur can also refer to an awful-looking place or object.
Example : “Franchement, tu fais dur avec ta chemise à pois.”
Translation: “Quite frankly, you look positively ghastly in your polka-dot shirt.”
Niaiseux / Niaiseuse
Whether it’s a person, an object, an idea, or a situation, niaiseux (and its feminine form niaiseuse) means “stupid” or “dumb”. It can also be used in a lighter tone, translating as “silly.”
Example : Il ne sait même pas placer le Kazakhstan sur une carte ce maudit niaiseux.
Translation: This moron can’t even place Kazakhstan on a map.
In Quebec French, the adjective écœurant.e has a different connotation than French spoken in France (which helps refer to something “nauseating”). It can mean anything from “disgusting” to “awful”, “great” to “wonderful”. Only context will tell.
Did you know? Ecoeurant is also a common slang word for “sick” as in “outstandingly good”.
Example : Il a fait exprès d’éternuer sur son voisin de train… quel gros écœurant !
Translation: He sneezed on the person next to him on the train on purpose – what a disgusting slob.
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Yet another liturgical term akin to our F-word, pepper ciboire onto any negative situation you may encounter in your local Poutine joint and you’ll fit right in. Ciboire translates as “ciborium”, a container in which communion wafers are stored, and is commonly used as an adjective to convey a negative emotion. For maximum cool points, try adding saint to make saint ciboire, the ideal replacement for “holy f*ck”.
Example : Saint ciboire qu’est ce qu’il fait froid aujourd’hui !
Translation: Holy f*ckl it’s cold out today!
Bonus 1: Les nouilles ne sont pas toutes dans la soupe
No matter how much you rack your brain, you’ll never grasp the meaning of this penultimate expression. Les nouilles ne sont pas toutes dans la soupe (lit. “the noodles are not all in the soup)” is a metaphorical way of describing someone as being stupid.
Bonus 2: Etre habillé comme la chienne à Jacques
This last expression is said to come from the term jaque, a leather coat worn by hunting dogs back in the 16th century, which made them look overly ridiculous. Over time, the noun jaque has been confused with the common French name Jacques and today, the expression (lit. “to be dressed like Jacque’s bitch”) refers to a frumpy person.
Puta*n that felt good! Dying to learn more Quebec-style profanities? Check out, Frantastique our online French course.
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2 thoughts on “A guide to some of Québec’s best insults and curse words (warning: may confuse the French)”
LMAO! Being of Acadian ancestry and culture, I am familiar with all these terms except for the last two about noodles and Jaques bitch. Thanks for a laugh, I use these in my French quite often though not common to my version of the language.
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